Tag Archives: fasting

Yom Kippur and the Fast

art by Laya Crust

As we approach Yom Kippur- for many of us the most serious day of the year- we prepare for a day of fasting, prayer, and meditation. I expect that the significance of Yom Kippur differs for many of us. Is it a cleansing of the mind or the soul? Is it a day to take stock? Even if we can define what we think it is, can we achieve what we have defined?

The haftarah is from the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah’s message isn’t focused on the self. Rather it is focused on social justice. He says, “The fast you perform today will not make your voice heard on high.” (58:4) …”Loosen the bindings of evil, … shatter every yoke of slavery. Break your bread for the starving and bring the dispossessed home. When you see a person naked, clothe him; do not ignore your kin. And then your light will break out like the sunrise…”(58: 6,7)

This central message is that in and of itself the fast of Yom Kippur does not get God’s attention. Filling the world with justice and positive actions is the true goal of healing oneself and one’s relationship with the Creator. We can pray, we can fast, we can cry over our failings. If we don’t work to improve our actions and act in ways to improve the world round us, the tears and lack of food and water on the Day of Atonement are meaningless.

art by Laya Crust

Isaiah continues, saying, “…if you give of your soul to the starving, and answer the hunger of your souls oppressed- then your light will shine out in darkness, and your night will shine like noontide.”

There are many ways- large and small- to help those around us. Every small positive action betters the world around us and betters our selves.

Have a meaningful Yom Kippur, and let’s make the world better and brighter.

Shana Tova- May you be blessed and inscribed for a good and healthy year.



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Tisha B’Av and Poetry

Tisha BAv sigart by Laya Crust

Tisha B’Av- a day of mourning on the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av

Readings- Lamentations written by the prophet Jeremiah, poems of sorrow  (kinot) by Jewish writers from throughout history

For many Jews Tisha B’Av is the most difficult day of the year. It is a fast day (no eating or drinking for about 26 hours) during which we reflect upon  many tragedies that took place on the 9th of Av throughout history. The destructions of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem  (586 BCE and 70 CE), the fall of Bar Kochba’s outpost at Betar (135 CE), the expulsion of the Jews from England (1290 ), the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492), and the  commencement of World War I in 1914 are some of those disasterous events.

We are a people of words. Words, specifically poetry, convey despair, angst and loss more effectively than any other medium.

section of Eicha

The Book of Lamentations is attributed to  Jeremiah , the prophet who lived at the time of the destruction of the first Temple. Eicha is a book comprised completely of poetry. The searing desolation of the people- their hunger, loss and despair are experienced and described. The reading of The Book of Lamentations is followed by readings of shorter poems or kinnot . The kinnot (dirges) were composed   by various writers and authors throughout our history. These writers recognized that the pain of persecution and expulsion was not limited to the destruction of the First and Second Temples. The disasters continued with crusades, pogroms, expulsions, the public burnings of Torah scrolls and sacred books, the holocaust, and even more recent massacres.

P1090522art by Laya Crust

The beautiful and searing poems were written by notable scholars and poets such as Rabbi Elazar Hakalir and  Rabbi Judah Halevi.  Many congregations add modern kinnot to the traditional list and even have “kinnot slams” to involve and express current events.

Tisha B’Av is a time of reflection not just of oneself but of history, nation, and community behaviour. We are surrounded by enemies. Not just those who want to destroy us as a people or destroy the country of Israel, but enemies such as greed, selfishness, and egocentricity. Those traits lead to not caring about others, not helping others and the fraying of beautiful communities.

This Tisha B’Av I hope you read the rich poetry of our nation and make it a healing experience.

Have a meaningful week,


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Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur Shacharit


Isaiah 57:14 – 58:14

Isaiah (prophet)- c. 740 – 681 BCE

The painting above is part of my “haftarah series”, in a style inspired by Marc Chagall.  Images from the haftarah text appear in the picture. I painted challah (to represent feeding the poor and oppressed) observing Shabbat, and “raising your voice like a ram’s horn”. (ch 58: 1) The blues evoke “A spring whose waters will not fail” (ch 58:12) and there is “light that bursts through the dawn”(ch 58: 8). Click on the image to enlarge it.

Yom Kippur is a difficult day for many of us. Not only do we have to fast  (some of us start weaning ourselves off caffeine a week early) but we go to synagogue and face ourselves. Thinking about our weaknesses is difficult, and deciding to improve realities is even more difficult.

This is a very dynamic reading. Right at the beginning Gd says, “Build up a highway! Clear a road! Remove all obstacles from the road of my people!” In energetic language the Jews are told that Gd notices them and how they are faring. HaShem sees illness and will heal them.

The message is one of an attentive Gd who knows and recognizes the challenges all people face. Fasting is mentioned a number of times. The text describes what many people do- they take advantage of their employees and those in a lower position.   It continues, “…No, this is the fast I desire: to unlock the fetters of wickedness…to let the oppressed go free…” (ch 58: 6) We are reminded that fasting must be done with the right intention.

Many of us go to synagogue on Yom Kippur filled with trepidation. It is a day when we feel our mortality and we fear for the future. It is often a comfort to be in synagogue surrounded by others who are also praying for self-improvement and/or a better year.

These are very troubling times all over the world. I won’t list all the challenges in front of us because it’s too depressing. On the positive side there are millions and millions of wonderful innovators, optimists, do-gooders, and creative givers who make the world a better place. We should all support the positive changes and work towards greater mending in the world.

Have a “positive” fast. May your year be filled with peace, health, happiness and “parnassa” (financial security) for you and your family. Happy 5775!



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Yom Kippur Mincha

Yom Kippur Mincha

Book of Jonah ; Prophet-either 8th C. BCE or 4th C. BCE

Micah 7:18 -19

Yom Kippur Mincha

We read the Book of Jonah in its entirety on Yom Kippur in the afternoon. It’s a great story, one of those that can be used as a bedtime adventure story to tell the children. From storms at sea to getting swallowed by a “whale” to a gourd that blossoms in one night, there are many exciting events. The best known of the adventures is depicted in the lyrical painting above. We see two sailors in a merchant ship. They have thrown Jonah over the side of the boat and he’s being swallowed by a giant fish. It is  based on an illustration from the Kennicott Bible, Spain, 1476, painted by Joseph ibn Hayyim.

But of course this is not just an adventure story. The narrative consists of the prophet Jonah disregarding God’s orders to warn the sinning people of Ninevah of the forthcoming punishment from God. He runs away a few times and each time is rebuked. Ultimately the people of Ninevah repent and God pardons them. Jonah is very upset that the people of Ninevah were forgiven. It appears that Jonah felt those who sinned should be punished, so that it was unjust that the people of Ninevah were exonerated.

Jonah says, “I know that you are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment. Please, Lord, take my life for I would rather die than live.”  God recognizes Jonah’s anger and his inability to understand God’s forgiveness.

There are a few lessons taught in this haftarah. One is the lesson of true repentance. The people of Ninevah put on sackcloth and ashes. Then they fasted and prayed, and vowed to turn from their evil ways. They were forgiven because their prayers were sincere. We learn that when true repentance  for past deeds involves sincerity and honesty.

Another lesson is that of forgiveness. God created humankind and is waiting to see the goodness and uprightness of humanity. Jonah was upset and had a sense of loss when “his” gourd withered up- even though he had slept under it for one night. The gourd was a metaphor for God’s relationship with humanity. If Jonah was sad at the loss of “his” gourd- which he didn’t create, how much more would God be bereaved by the destruction of an entire community. The lesson of the gourd as a metaphor for an entire community can also teach empathy and forgiveness- or the concept to picture ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Jonah had to realize that the people of Ninevah had as much right to repent and live as he, Jonah had. Once we remember that we are equal to others in the world we can move on and sympathize with, empathize with and, and help others we may have formerly ignored.

On Yom Kippur we have 25 hours in which we pray, reflect and think. We have the time to consider our relationships and our behaviours. Yom Kippur is a gift for thought and an opportunity for forgiveness and acceptance.

This is a great opportunity to speak to our children or friends and reflect on how, if we are a little more forgiving, patient, and understanding, we can make the world a better place.

Have a meaningful day in synagogue and G’mar Chatima Tova- may the coming year be one of health,  peace, and blessings.

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